Saturday, August 18, 2007

On Mining Safety

In the wake of the tragic, apparent loss of 6 miners and 3 rescuers in Utah, it's likely that Congress will at least consider legislation to try to make sure nothing like this happens again. One problem with that approach: Congress did it 14 months ago -- in the wake of the loss of dozen workers at the Sago mine in West Virginia. The MINER Act requires (click the link for a more detailed summary):

A comprehensive, proactive approach to safety:

  • For the first time, every mine will have a comprehensive emergency response plan that provides for evacuation of miners and the maintenance of miners unable to evacuate.
  • The plans must address post-accident communications, tracking, breathable air, lifelines, training, and coordination with local emergency response personnel.

Coal mines must provide oxygen to save miners’ lives in the event of a disaster.

Every mine must have flame resistant lifelines.

MSHA must take action to prevent future disasters due to blown out seals.

Mines must have two-way wireless communications and electronic tracking.

Every mine must have a well-trained rescue team nearby.

New programs included in the MINER Act will advance safety technology and train a new generation of skilled miners and safety inspectors.

National Journal's the Gate has a very interesting post that puts some perspective on this tragedy:
Technological advancements have done little to mitigate the dangers of mining, one of the most risk-fraught occupations today. But mining also offers relatively lucrative pay without requiring a college degree, making it an attractive job prospect in some parts of the country.

In Utah, miners made an average of more than $62,000 last year, the Deseret Morning News reports. Disasters have befallen central Utah mining communities before. And while residents are hardly shocked by tragedies like the one playing out now, there are signs native Utahns are abandoning the trade. Migrants from Latin and Central America are filling the void, Reuters reports, and three of the trapped workers are reportedly Latinos.

Another group of foreigners may also be eyeing the developments in Utah closely. China may have the world's worst record on mine safety, with 4,746 fatalities last year compared with fewer than 50 in the U.S. Cave-ins, explosions and fires are a fairly regularly occurrence, and workers more or less are the canaries in the coal mine. Under pressure from the usually cautious Chinese media, officials there are taking steps to improve safety for miners.
It's ironic that at the same time Americans are focused on the accident in Utah, 181 miners in China are feared dead due to a flood. You can bet the response of the US Congress the Utah mine disaster will be greater than whatever the Chinese government does.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

What I am trying to figure out is that if you are a utility company that burns coal power, how much responsibility do you have for these accidents. Clearly utility companies have the choice of buying power from fuel sources that have a better safety record.

To me this is the same as retailers who used to say that outsourced clothes made in China were not their responsibility. Companies have generally stepped up here and Utility companies should step up and not buy coal from coal mines with bad safety records.

With coal prices doubling in the past 7 years, they can afford to increase prices another 5% and pay for the safety equipment necessary here.